Humanity or the Law?

Sunday 24, July. I was on my way back to Dakar from Bamako on a coach. When we entered Senegal the usual controls took place. There was one lady with a baby and a toddler who had no ID card nor passport on her, just her birth certificate. Luckily for her, the policemen were merciful enough to let her go. Twice.

The second time a man got off the coach with her to try and convince the policeman to let her go to Dakar. Everybody on the bus played the “she has two children with her, have pity on her” card.

When they got back on the coach there was a heated debate on African humanity and the respect and application of the law.

The man that pleaded with the young lady, some 50-year-old Cameroonian, said that it's important to keep being humane, even if it goes against the law.

Another man, a young Malian law student, said that was one of the reasons why Mali and Cameroon were such chaotic countries. He said: “Mali and Cameroon are the same country. They have the same mother and same father. They rank as the 3rd and 1st most corrupt country in Africa. There's absolutely no application of the law.”

As I was listening to both positions I couldn't help but agree with most of what the student said, but I also wondered which place humanity (and maybe morality) has within the law.

I told my mother that although sometimes the law can be harsh (it would have, in fact, prevented the young mother from travelling and would have forced her to go back to Mali) but it is necessary to keep order and discipline in a country. Something that doesn't exist in Mali.

Humanity is something we, Africans, are proud of and wear as a badge of honour. But in this system, is it possible to have 'humane' laws? Would they be too soft?

I should have started with: are the laws that we have in Mali our own or a copy of those of France? Can we change them trying to combine our humanity, the rigidity of the law, our traditions and the present?

Because of colonialism and neo-colonialism the quest of the authentic African way of life exclusively exists in the past. We seek answers for our future in our past and although it is necessary to know where we started from to know where we're going, we also have to move forward with what we have now.

Colonialism destroyed us, but it is not by looking back that we will fix our present.

We have to create a new Africa on our own terms. And if it's possible we can humanise all spheres of our lives. The law included.